Apr 1, 2024 - History

Remembering Detroit's Mother Waddles

Rev. Charleszetta "Mother" Waddles outside of the Mother Waddles Perpetual Mission.

Rev. Charleszetta "Mother" Waddles outside of the Mother Waddles Perpetual Mission. Photo: Schlesinger Library

When struggling Detroiters needed help, the Rev. Charleszetta "Mother" Waddles and her army of volunteers were there for nearly three decades.

Why it matters: Waddles, whose name continues to reverberate throughout the area's social services community, helped uplift others with a sense of dignity and self-esteem.

Flashback: The Mother Waddles Perpetual Mission offered free food and clothing, a free medical clinic, job counseling and even emergency funds — all by donations.

  • Waddles began the mission at 3700 Gratiot Ave. in 1958 after convincing a landlord to let her open it from a vacant storefront, according to the Detroit Historical Society.
  • She preached there every Sunday until it was destroyed by a fire in 1984.

The Free Press called the mission "the most unorganized successful organization in the world," in 1973.

What they're saying: Described by late Free Press columnist Susan Watson as a "relentless do-gooder," Waddles, who died in 2001, is remembered as a hero.

  • "There isn't a person that's young or old, Black or white, rich or poor, drunk or sober that doesn't have some opportunity to do some good," she told PBS in a 1990 documentary profiling the activist, "Ya Done Good."

Fun fact: Waddles is the namesake of the Mother Waddles vehicle donation program.

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